Mark SaFranko : Voices and Silence (journée IDEA)

Mark SaFranko : Voices and Silence (journée IDEA)

22 October 2018 0 By Barbara Schmidt

Après avoir fait mettre en voix sa courte pièce de théâtre « No… » à deux étudiants de Master Mondes Anglophones, Anna-Salomé Panayides et Sydney Goeury, Mark SaFranko donne sa vision de la dialectique Voix et Silence lors de la journée d’étude IDEA organisée par Claudine Armand le 19 octobre 2018.



I am not a university professor, but I will do my best.

In the play “No…” we have witnessed and heard the juxtaposition of two voices with silence. While the dialogue is meaningful and of course hints at the action, such as there is, in this piece the silences are perhaps even more pregnant. Those interludes prod the audience directly into the lives of the characters onstage. From the first shock of silent recognition, we want to know everything about these people. Those tiny, explosive voids, those gaps of nothingness, are perhaps the most effective occurrences in a piece of art. The ultimate, final silence imposed by the broken dialogue at the conclusion of the play hurls the viewer into a spiral of ambiguity, even confusion about what he’s just seen, and that is the most powerful aspect of theater or art, because it leaves the work open to interpretation — many interpretations, and any interpretation, and sometimes no interpretation. Most of the time there will be at least some common ground for agreement about what the play signifies, but just as likely there will be room for many different meanings. I’ve already witnessed this phenomenon myself at a recent reading of the play back in the United States.

I will admit I don’t like making speeches. It smacks too much of the dogmatic and formal for my liking. And since I’ve not stepped into the halls of academia for decades, my discomfort is all that more pronounced. My education as an artist has been in the streets, which I believe is mandatory because the artist must at all times keep his fingers on the pulse of life in the now. No, I much prefer the give and take of questions and answers, which permits the audience to get straight at its most important concerns. But most of all I prefer to allow the work to speak for itself. This is always the best alternative, because then the silence of the artist takes on a new — albeit often cryptic– meaning. The truth is that the artist shouldn’t have to explain anything about what he or she does. He’s already had his or her say in the work presented and it’s up to the viewer or reader to make his or her own sense of it. When the artist maintains silence in the face of praise or criticism or befuddlement, his or her work itself speaks even more loudly and will take on a more significant meaning. And that goes for both voice and silence.

In my literary work, I have come to discover and listen to several different and insistent voices. How I tap into these divergent, sometimes clashing noises has remained something of a riddle even to me. But for me this has been a boon, because tuning into those voices keeps me busy. Fortunately for me I never seem to run out of things to write about, of course a blessing for someone who is a professional writer. When one voice becomes tiresome or boring or sputters out, there are always others at my disposal. All these different noises and sounds began to make themselves heard at a very early age, they’ve not deteriorated into a cacophony, and I’ve tried to take advantage of each one of them. Sometimes I have to ignore them because I don’t have the time to listen to them properly. For instance, rather than dream literary I often dream music but am not in the position to transcribe it due to the constraint of time and place.

Anyway, the character of Max Zajack -– the anti-hero of my best-known work in France -– hews very closely to my own life and experience. Max is me, my alter-ego. That voice is insistent, busy, visceral, brutal, opinionated, sometimes judgmental. He comes close to being the whole man. I don’t have trouble locating that voice, ever. Many readers seem to identify with it. There is very little room for silence when that voice is active as it leaps from one experience to another, one rant to another, one memory to the next. That said, I often need a break from Max.

Another voice, the voice that channels the characters in crime and psychological suspense and straight realism (though the lines of genre are always blurry at best), is a more concocted, imagined voice in its manifestation on the page, but one that arrives just as naturally and is for me every bit as legitimate. This phenomenon tells me that human beings tuned into themselves probably hear thousands of voices if only they learn to listen. I seem to need all of them for psychic and artistic balance, and they, like Max Zajack, also require their outlet.

In fact, all of my creative urges battle for an outlet. I’m not talking about in the commercial marketplace, though at some point in the process their commercial viability does figure in.

As a composer of music, which originates from a different recess of the brain or spirit than the literary voice, I am always acutely and especially aware of the juxtaposition of silence and sound. A simple rest can determine the entire feel of a piece. In the recording studio, where I choose not to play on a particular composition is often just as important as where I lay down a piano or a guitar note or series of notes. Does one thing mean more than another? Only insofar as one impacts the other. Sound in music, both lyrical and instrumental, throws off its essential meaning in counter positions.

As a painter, which I sometimes play at, the inner voices are for the time being silenced, but what emerges is also a form of voice, even if it exists only on the canvas and can’t actually be heard. It’s a curious amalgam, the creation of the painter: silent and resonant, sometimes raucous at the same time. For me the act of wielding the brush is an imitation into yet one more enigmatic crevice of the psyche, one that is especially mute. And sometimes I think of the act of painting as a silencer of all those other voices, for at least the time that I’m splashing paint onto paper. And that can be a much-needed respite from the chaos inside.

But in the end, for the artist there is really nothing but voice and noise. The silence itself is a voice, some kind of weapon to be wielded in the service of the construction of a particular work. Of course there are obvious crucial differences in the physical expression of each category of artistic creation, but the essence of all of them is always the voice of the creator. And that voice is his or her own particular gift, like the song of a particular species of bird.

A final word on the subject of silence. Where is silence most potent? I can’t think of a better example to consider than Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece of the same name, recently in theaters and savaged by the critics who did not seem to understand its fundamental themes and were instead focused on such mundane elements as pace and talkiness, and so on. When all of our noise ceases, Scorsese seems to be asking, where is the voice of God? Does God respond to man’s importuning, his prayers? Can we ever know? How would we ever know? What we hear when we beg God for some meaning in this often utterly senseless existence we’re trapped in is nothing but … silence. An everlasting silence which calls into question our faith, if in this increasingly cynical world we have any at all. Our own voices seem to bear very little weight against that overpowering silence.

This is perhaps where the voices and silences of the artist assume a unique significance. Because our meaning comes from the artist, who, in creating his own world, takes the place of God in an incomprehensible universe.

Mark SaFranko, octobre 2018

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